Away From Her
Directed by Sarah Polley. Starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Michael Murphy, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson, Wendy Crewson. (2007, PG-13, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 18, 2007
If love is a mystery, its continuation is an even greater marvel. Often, the addition of time and experience to the equation of love yields boredom, contempt, or indifference. Yet sometimes life's messy stew enriches the broth so that the accumulated indiscretions over time and the missteps of experience become a part of the tapestry that binds a couple and moves them forward a stitch at a time. Although Fiona (Christie) and Grant (Pinsent) have been married for 44 years, Fiona is still a young woman when Alzheimer's begins to efface her memories and mock her existence. It is her decision to move into an assisted-care facility, away from the life she shared with Grant, a retired professor who resists the decision. It seems that for the last dozen or so years since they had moved into their remote country house, Grant has harbored guilt over a long-ago indiscretion with a student. Even though all that was in the past, and he had always done his utmost to expiate his sin, Fiona's memory of his slip still haunts him. Perhaps the slippage of her memory will be a gift to the devoted pair, yet there are also some hints in this marvelously subtle film that Fiona still remembers and maintains her sweetly ironic streak. The casting of this film – surely one of the year's best – could not be more perfect. Always a pleasure, the former It girl Christie has one of her best roles since her Sixties heyday. Veteran Canadian actor Pinsent is heartbreaking as the diligent spouse, while Dukakis lends some of her no-nonsense grit to her role as the wife of another Alzheimer's patient (Murphy), and Thomson as the head nurse steals just about every scene she's in. Based on the short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," by Alice Munro, the film retains the author's concise observations and unsentimental tone. Away From Her is all the more remarkable for having been written and directed by Polley, a Canadian actress-turned-director (most recognizable from her turns in Go and Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter) not yet out of her 20s and making her first feature film. What experiential background this veritable child draws on to create these mature portraits of accumulated lifetimes is another of this movie's unknowable mysteries. Do not be deterred by anyone callously describing Away From Her as "that Alzheimer's film starring that old Dr. Zhivago beauty" or some such. Away From Her, like its dominant image of the tracks in the snow made fresh, time and again, from cross-country skiing, is a phantom of a movie whose beautiful flakes fall into the deep crevices of memory long after the seasons change.